Anger is something God obviously feels when He describes Himself in Exodus 34:6: “And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.’ ” Psalm 30:5 says, “For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Anger makes a value judgment, assesses that something is wrong, says “I’m against that,” and actively stands to oppose that thing. Anger is definitely consistent with God’s character. Yet, without the work of the Holy Spirit guiding believers into applying biblical truth to our handling of anger, we will not know how to mercifully enact anger in a God-glorifying manner. We are tempted to vent anger in a harmful way, storming around, slamming doors, yelling, crafting vengeance, and/or implementing retaliatory violence! Or, we are tempted to stuff anger in a harmful way and passively, aggressively make people’s lives miserable including our own. Destruction is guaranteed to follow either way.
There is a constructive way. Ephesians 4:26 says, ” ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Action is called for. Many verses indicate that there is a godly way to handle anger without it leading into sin… God’s Truth gives us the only profound wisdom for allowing anger to inform our responses and actions in a God-honoring manner.
I am currently taking a counseling class entitled “Dynamics of Biblical Change.” My professor, Dr. David Powlison (now deceased), has written a challenging journal article called “The Constructive Displeasure of Mercy” (The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2006). He says that anger has three opposites. The first two are indifference and pleasure. The #3 opposite he calls “the constructive displeasure of mercy.” I see Dr. Powlison’s point is – be angry, yet withhold destructive hostility and simultaneously respond with patience, forgiveness, generosity, and mercy. It seems backwards. But, it is God’s heart. Indeed, the gospel turns so many things upside-down!
The #3 anger opposite (Powlison’s “the constructive displeasure of mercy”) confronts wrong and is pleased to get mercifully messy in the process. The #3 opposite also rescues sufferers and calls wrongdoers to honest accountability. Simultaneously, displeasure can be expressed mercifully. But, how?
To help process this idea, I offer this acronym. MIAWA. Mercy In Anger Without Aggression (it’s easier for me to remember). Inspired by Dr. Powlison, my own version of anger’s #3 opposite force is MIAWA. Mercy in anger without aggression means that, while I hate the wrong that is happening, I will do something about it. My anger is appropriate if I take steps to properly oppose what is evil…
Meanwhile, I’ll be slow to anger as God is, and won’t express anger wrongly. I will see evil clearly in all its aspects, but from God’s point of view. I will longsuffer with difficult people and events. I will be compelled by a different, but divine purpose. Kindness. Honesty. But, no counterattack. I’ll work tediously to solve what is bad, even if it takes a lifetime. In the face of stubborn evils, I’ll choose a merciful path.
Extending mercy while being angry? Extending forgiveness in the face of terribly evil things that get perpetrated on a regular basis on planet earth since Genesis? Seriously? I am sure the answer is yes. For a faithful believer, forgiveness doesn’t mean I’ll ignore or excuse what is wrong. I’ll need to name the evils, out loud at times, silently at other times, prayerfully at still other times. And then, prayerfully wrap those call-outs in God’s redemptive purposes.
Psalm 103:10 gives us the unvarnished Truth about God – “[God] He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” MIAWA is God’s pattern for redeeming what seems unredeemable. MIAWA returns kindness where it is most certainly undeserved. It does not cover up what’s bad and does not pretend all is well. Yet, with a kind heart, it energetically works to redeem the unredeemable.
Adopting a lifestyle of MIAWA (mercy in anger without aggression) cannot be done in our own strength. MIAWA must be supernatural. The Holy Spirit must move us to take action, to sincerely offer to others patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. And without venting or stuffing anger, but by processing it out in prayer. Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
So there’s God’s call. The Spirit alone must provide the dynamic. Now, this is my prayer. Dear God, please help me to express my anger with constructive merciful love, slowly and according to Your timing. Help me to remember what MIAWA means.